Tuesday, September 09, 2014


The beginning of the fall semester is always a fun time at our house. It's a season when everything holds a component of something fresh and exciting, from the T-shirts Ashley gets for free from campus (to replace the ones I wore out during the previous year), to the hours-old leftover pizza she brings in from hall programs celebrating the start of the year. We may have to cut the crust with an acetylene torch, but hey - it's free. And it means I don't have to cook. So. Win-win.

We reside in the land where college football rules all. The Southeastern Conference. The SEC. Since the beginning of the fall athletic season coincides with the beginning of the academic year, students take this opportunity to demonstratively set their fashion tone for the year by showing forth their spirit and pride. From the placement of stickers and decals on vehicles to the wearing of shirts and hats adorned with logos and names, legions of energetic, frenzied, and passionate 18-to-20-something year olds take to the residence halls, academic buildings, and city to serve as a witness and walking billboard...

...for their church.

"And on the third down, he rose again."

Having spent more than half of my life living in towns where August means extended traffic delays and seeing aluminum beer cans pop up in yards overnight like so many recyclable mushrooms, I'm used to the fun, kinetic mania, and genuine joy to be found in what a new beginning represents. Fresh academic (re)starts, reconnecting with friends they haven't seen all summer, and meeting new faces and learning new perspectives about life from that new kid in the residence hall.

Restaurants, bars, shopping centers - pretty much every establishment you can name that lies within the city limits and is within walking distance of the football stadium will come up with a sports-related theme to start the academic year off, showing fully where their loyalties lie.

And so will the churches. Because as the Bible teaches us, clearly the Son of God came to serve...the home team.

First United Marketing Church

It always makes me laugh a little when churches use the start of the school year as a launch pad for a series or new teaching lesson. I get that the influx of new first-year and transfer students into a community is a great opportunity to reach out to them - both from a legitimate concern for their spiritual well-being and development, as well as a chance to "hook" them into their respective fellowships. Far too many people find that without the rhythm and cadence of "Sunday morning - Wednesday night - plus small group" for Spiritual growth that was monitored both by their parents and peers, once they enter the promised land of college, they begin to cease attending any kind of function that doesn't come with free food and/or cute people attending.

I've been a part of too many churches where the leadership tries to brand their fellowship as something it's not - namely, a place for college students. Because while they want to students to attend (Nothing looks good to the Conference like an influx of fresh and young faces! And they're photogenic!) they want to do so on their terms. At their times. In their place. And they want their church's sanctuary to be THE place of sanctuary for them.

Oh, those campus ministries are okay in their own right, but let's not forsake the assembling together of one another...here.

It's Bigger on the Inside

I have been fortunate to be a part of some killer small groups in the past - in Athens, Miami, and even back in Mississippi. And it was the friendship, the camaraderie, the love felt between us all that held us together. Moreso than the church as a whole ever did.

One could argue the small groups could not function without the larger church, or vice-versa. But one thing was for sure: we didn't have bumper stickers for our small group. We lived a life that spoke more than hoping that if we wore a shirt for our church, someone might ask us about it.

We marketed love to each other. And to compete strangers. We didn't try to proselytize for our team. We let our lives speak more than our stats ever could.

And in many ways, it made those seasons never end.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Journey to the Center of the Colon

A few weeks ago, at the suggestion of my GP, I underwent a colonoscopy about seven years ahead of schedule. Since my doctor stated I had a "pronounced genetic predisposition" to potentially have colon cancer myself (thanks to it running in my family), I contacted my insurance to make sure it was covered, and then went ahead and scheduled my Very Special Camera Time.

Since a number of my friends are younger that I am (jerks), I felt it beneficial to comedically document via words and not images what they, too, can expect once they cross the 50 year age threshold and have to enjoy the same uplifting procedure I did.

So, let's try and laugh our butts off, shall we?


9:00 am - The instructions say I am to cut out vegetables and fruit. Basically, I'm supposed to eat like my five year old. Awesome. I can do this.

11:17 am - Why on earth I keep seeing commercials for Strawberry Poppyseed Salads is beyond me. And just cruel.


6:00 am - Thus begins my "clear liquid" diet. No meat, no dairy, nothing but broth, gelatin, and popsicles. I can do this.

They allow coffee. Black coffee. Thankfully. Otherwise I'd have to be seen for my blood pressure as well as my colon.

I asked about domestic beer. It's pretty translucent. However, the AMA and I have a difference of opinion on it being classified as a clear liquid though. My fellow craft beer enthusiasts would stand with me on this.

9:14 am - Is it physically possible to eat one's own body weight in flavored gelatin? I'm pretty sure I'm about to find out. 

11:30 am - Lunch is water and a popsicle. My one year old is looking at me like I've gone mad. Not because I'm eating dessert and no lunch, but because I have nothings discernible as food in front of me. This is a heresy in his eyes. 

5:00 pm - Time to start the MoviPrep (WORST NAME EVER).

5:01 pm - Hunh. For everyone who said this was the worst thing they've ever tasted, they've obviously never been to a homebrew competition. Tastes like warm, salty lemonade. Not something I'd drink voluntarily, but I don't see what the big deal is.

5:22 pm - Please kill me. I now see what the big deal is.

8:04 pm - I may have sped-read through Kai's bedtime story tonight. And wiggled a bit more than normal.

11:17 pm - Liquified hell. My body and soul are now completely emptied.

11:18 pm - ...or so I thought...


7:00 am - My last chance to drink coffee (because a diarrhetic is REALLY what I need right about now) and have a popsicle.

8:48 am - Make note to self to purchase stock in all manufacturers of toilet paper.

12:00 pm - Time to go in for the procedure. I had to get Ashley to take the afternoon off, since they say I can't drive home on my own. Pfft. I've survived Brewvival. What's the worst thing an anesthetic can do to me?

1:30 pm - They finally wheel me back. After waiting for an hour and a half. I've had an IV in my hand keeping me filled with fluid, and I had to get undressed behind an ugly printed sheet suspended on a metal pole. Worst of all, I could't  have my phone with me. Some crap about privacy issues and the like. Hard to have privacy when everyone's privates are only one paper-thin sheet away. Was going to "Live Tweet" my colonoscopy. Can't let Kaite Couric win all the battles.

2:00 pm - My anesthesiologist looks like Bellatrix Lestrange. I'm slightly concerned.

3:00 pm (or thereabouts) - I'm awake. Ish. After the procedure, they wheeled me back to the holding area with beautiful sheet walls. Because I haven't had enough happy memories in this place.

Apparently in addition to a colonoscopy, they spliced in some genetic materials to make me part Slitheen. (If you're a Doctor Who fan, you'll understand.) 

I'm surprisingly awake and alert (according to Ashley, who was secretly hoping I would emerge in some drugged stupor declaring myself the King of the Potato People or something). No polyps. Perfect colon (as far as such things are measured).

4:00 pm - At Five Guys. Ordered a bacon double cheeseburger. May get another one.

For as after-the-fact humorous as my nerves were about the procedure (minus the MoviPrep - again: WORST NAME EVER), I was genuinely concerned about what might be found. Cancer is something to not be taken lightly or to be lived in with ignorance. Get yourself and your loved ones checked out.

You get enjoy more bacon double cheeseburgers that way.   

Because you'll get to enjoy them with family and friends. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

For Maggie

Ten Years Ago...

Ashley and I had been dating for a relatively short amount of time when I found myself as the caretaker of a four year old Chow/Shepherd mixed breed dog. Because Ashley couldn't have a pet in the residence hall where she was serving as Hall Director, Maggie was living several hours away with her mom. I offered - out the kindness of my heart (and blindness of infatuation with Ashley) - to serve as host for Maggie while we were both working at the University of Georgia.

Just a few days into our new living arrangement, Ashley was astonished when I told her Maggie was voluntarily sleeping every night in the bed with me. It turns out "Maggie doesn't do that with anyone" except for her. She was "too independent" to do such. While Cricket, my dog I had adopted in 1994, preferred to sleep on the floor next to a cracked window for fresh air, Maggie apparently preferred my company to the bed she had.

We joked that if we ever broke up, we'd have to discuss who got to keep Maggie. But still, at the end of the day, Maggie was Ashley's dog.

Seven Years Ago...

Nothing says fun like an interstate move with two dogs. Maggie and Cricket had tolerated each other as roommates for a few years, but they had never truly gotten along...until we moved them to Miami.

We joked that the trauma of packing up their house and then driving them for several hours stopping only for breaks in the grass might cause them to bond, but we didn't know the depth of truth to that idea until the first afternoon we we in our new apartment in south Florida.

Maggie and Cricket slept side-by-side. Cuddled next to one another. Maybe it was out of solidarity ("If they try and pull this crap again, we've got each others' back, right?"). Maybe it was out of comfort. Maybe it was out of love.

Maggie was still Ashley's dog, but she was also now Cricket's best friend.

Six Years Ago...

For days, Maggie would just walk up to and stare out the glass door she last saw Cricket being carried out of. Late one night, Ashley and I had to take Cricket to the Pet ER after she started breathing irregularly. Maggie kept waiting for her best friend to come home, but Cricket never would. The tugs of war between them for chew toys, the competition to see who could look the most pitiful when begging for scraps, and the question of who could mark the most territory outside had come to and end. Maggie grieved in her own way the loss of her companion. The thirteen years Cricket was with me would never be enough.

Maggie was still Ashley's dog, and they mourned together.

Five Years Ago...

We weren't sure Maggie was going to be okay with this new addition to the family. We didn't know how she was going to deal with not being the focal point of attention, and no longer being an only child. 

But she astonished us: she was incredibly protective of the little bundle of stinky diapers that came into "her" house. Any time someone came to see Kai, she would sit at attention next to me or Ashley, whichever one of us was holding him, guarding her new baby. His crying never bothered her, she never got upset at the late nights/early mornings when all our sleep was disturbed, and his making food rain upon the floor at mealtime was just an added bonus.

Maggie was now Kai's, and Kai was Maggie's.

Ashley who?

One Year Ago...

We upended her world yet again by adding a second baby to the mix. This time out, Maggie was less protective when people came over; maybe she finally realized Ashley and I weren't going to drop him or forget to feed him all the time, so she could relax her patrols a bit. 

But Eli and Maggie have a special bond, a different bond. The number of times I've come into a dangerously quiet room only to see him sitting on the floor next to her, cuddling her like she is one of his toys, is innumerable. They're a team.

Maggie is the boys, and the boys belong to her. 


Maggie is at peace.

We made the hard, almost impossible choice, to let her spirit go free. Ashley discovered a pet hospice center that would allow her to pass on in the comfort and love of the home she felt comfortable instead of the comparative clinical coldness of a vet's office. 

She'd been sick for a while, not herself in the least. Unable to rest, unable to eat, unable to walk. Unable to play. 

But for one day, for her last day, Maggie was more like herself than she'd been in weeks. Attentive. Responsive. She gave Ashley and I the most beautiful of gifts: a day of remembering our daughter as she was, not as she'd become. 

For today and for eternity, she is now running in fields of grass, her best friend by her side. Chasing squirrels together, playing with her chicken, and resting in the most warm of sunshine. Her pain, confusion, and discomfort is at and end. And as best I can, I take comfort in that knowledge. 

Ashley will grieve a deep grief as only a mother can.

Kai will grieve with questions, as the harsh realities of our mortal life shake him to his core.

Eli will look for his "da?" and not find her.


Maggie may have been Ashley's dog, Kai's protector, and Eli's cuddle buddy.

But she was my friend. My closest friend in so many, many ways. She was my at-home buddy for over five years. We shared numerous memories, secrets, treats snuck together, and walks a-plenty.

My heart is broken with the loss I feel.

Our house will be painfully quiet without the sound of her nails on the floor as she goes on patrol.

Maggie was - is - our baby. Not dog.


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

This Present Darkness: Depression, Hope, and the Struggle Between Them

The sudden and tragic death of Robin Williams has rekindled a discussion surrounding depression and its effects not only on the individual who suffers from it but also what it means to the friends and family members of the individual. Many find it shocking that someone like Williams whose life was spent as a beacon of laughter for millions of individuals could choose to end it all.

I'm not. Because I all too well understand the struggle he faced.

Some have taken to the airwaves and social media to condemn his actions, claiming that he was a coward.

His best film, in my opinion.
I can't, because anyone who has to find the strength day by day to simply get out of bed and keep going is impossible to label a "coward" or "weak." Having the audacity to condemn someone for a battle you know nothing about is the epitome of cowardice and cruelty.

Living with depression is exactly what the name implies: you live with it, just as you would live with a partner or spouse. It is there constantly, always in the back of your mind if not confronting you directly in the eyes when you look in the mirror. It is a state of being, not a phase you're going through, a rough patch, or temporary blip on your emotional radar.

What seems incredulous to many is that Williams, who seemed to be as larger than life in person as many of the characters he portrayed were, had this internal bleakness, starkness, and depth of pain that could not lift his spirits as he did for so many of us. "He acted so happy," "He was funny," and "He always made people laugh" are just a few of the seemingly contradictory actions in his life that make the tragedy of him taking his own life seem that much confusing and difficult to understand.

Again: I all too well understand. Those same sentiments have been said about me.

Perhaps some of us who struggle with depression erect this facade to distract both ourselves and others from what's really going on inside. It's not fakery (Williams was a remarkably gifted actor, but nobody's that good), as the clown and prankster are parts of our personas. We perhaps gravitate towards the other end of the emotional spectrum because to spend all our time where we feel emotionally drawn to would be utterly unbalanced and unhealthy. And there is just enough in us that cries out for peace and wholeness that understands the dangers of living in a perpetual imbalance. We may ignore this voice for seasons in our lives, but it remains as a tether - sometimes through a friend, family member, doctor, pastor, whomever - that gives us a reason to continue to at the very least look towards the light.

There is a wide, wide chasm between being depressed and having depression. Sadness or being depressed is often brought on by an incident or circumstance in your life, and is only temporary in comparison of length. Depression isn't just triggered; that emotional gun remains continually cocked, and the hammer can strike with the slightest jar to your life. And depression lingers, holding a tight reign on you for years, decades, or most of your life.

In high school, I kinda looked like I had it together somewhat: known but not "popular" in school, friends in most cliques, a leader within my youth group at church, moderately academically gifted, and my car wasn't an utter piece of crap. In public, I sang, acted, spoke at debates, and was out there for the world to see and interact with.

But the number of nights I sat alone in my bedroom in the dark with my door shut, alone with my thoughts of how ultimately worthless I was, how if I was gone no one would miss me, and how this sense of loneliness and isolation I felt would be with me throughout my entire life, making the sum of my life worth nothing at all...those nights can't be numbered. There were too many of them.

I never cried. I wasn't sad. It instead felt like a hollowness was in my chest, filled only by the consistent, unending sensation of the weight of me not being worthy of even being born.

Going to college didn't change these feelings. All that changed was that since I had a roommate for most of my undergrad days, there was someone I couldn't hide from. I operated from the presumption that if I acted un-Sonny-like, he would more than likely ask what was up. It was only in grad school when I began seeing a therapist that years of layers of hardened shells began to crack and I started to confront the darkness I carried with me.

I never took drugs to mask the pain (I hate needles). I never drank heavily to numb the pain. But don't mistake my inaction through these mediums for strength or bravery; I simply covered my pain through other actions damaging to my body and mind. Primarily, I hoped that if I ignored it long enough it might go away. I stopped eating. I was tempted to start cutting myself. I shut myself out of friendships and intentionally sabotaged some romantic relationships. I tried to kill myself emotionally, wishing that my physical end would come because I just gave up on everything.

These days, I'm better. Somewhat. Mainly. Mostly. It depends. I no longer physically sit in a darkened room, and I've learned how to keep myself out of one emotionally - but there are days, still, where I find myself sliding back into that mental state (part of which I wrote about here).

Williams wasn't a coward. He was a man whose artistry spoke to untold thousands of us who could connect with the gravitas he gave in his performances. His bravery on and off screen in living through the pain he felt should not be overshadowed by his choice at the end. Neither you nor I know the circumstances that led to his decision, if it was out of fear, pain, or a sensation of loss that could only be alleviated by taking what he thought was the only option.

Williams had a disease. Not a disease in the way some might consider, thinking all he had to do was make a run to CVS for an over-the-counter medication so that he could take two "Get Over It" pills and be better in the morning. Like most diseases, mixing drugs or alcohol into the equation can cause a worse reaction, something he was all to familiar with. But he was making strides in choosing to remove these additives to his pain.

Williams was not alone in his struggle, no matter how he felt.

I am not alone in my struggle, no matter how I feel at times.

You are not alone in your struggle.

Talk to someone. Reach out for a coffee date with a friend, family member, minister, teacher, or anyone you trust. If they don't understand your struggle, reach out to someone else. Don't take the ignorance of one person to be a definitive answer that everyone will treat you that way.

Depression is real. All too real.

But so is hope.

Thursday, July 24, 2014


Being a stay-at-home for round two is an interesting experience. Elias is completely and utterly on the other end of the spectrum from Kai in almost every possible way. As parents, we're not supposed to compare our kids as "better" than one another in any fashion; and yet, comparisons often occur naturally: who ate this way; who acted this way at bath time; who slept this way; and so on.

I love that I get to live through so many experiences with Eli. As a veteran parent, I think I'm more relaxed with Eli than I was with Kai. The first time around in being a parent, you tend to get so wound up in trying to do everything right that you miss so many of the quiet moments. Things like just playing on the floor with no educational objective in mind. Things like just spending time looking in each others' eyes and smiling to see if the other one will smile back. Things like taking the time to investigate every leaf, blade of grass, or rock outside, because it's likely his first time to ever have seen them (at least as far as his memory goes).

I am very intentional - probably overly so - in that every time I pick Eli up from his nap, I try to always hug him and say the words "I love you" to him. I try and carry on a conversation with him during meals when I feed him every day (go on and visualize it; it's more ridiculous than you can imagine). I try not to let anything, from the changing of the most offensive of diapers to the lotioning down after a bath, go by as something routine and mundane where he and I don't intentionally interact.

To be honest, I screw up. A lot. My tolerance level has in some ways not so much been shortened as it has been eradicated. I've gotten frustrated, angry, raised my voice, and said things I regret even as they are coming out of my mouth far more times than I care to admit. To Eli. To Kai. To Ashley. And time and again, I have had to apologize for being an ass. (Perhaps not phrasing aloud it quite like that, because I don't want Kai to pick up yet another word he shouldn't say.)

I'm discovering that my staying home with Eli is as much for my benefit as it is for his. With Kai, I was at a crossroads when I started my SAHD journey with him, in many ways at one of the lowest points in my life. I was dealing with the death of my father, the questioning of what I was supposed to do with my life. I defined myself as a dad, and only as a dad.

With Elias, I'm far more me than I have been in years. To be fair, I'm still dealing with the loss of my mom and the trainload of issues that stem from picking up the pieces of what it's like to be orphaned. But these days, I'm facing them as a much better me than I have been before. I don't define my being through the framework of what I do (or as I have been prone to call myself: "just a stay-at-home dad") as much as I do through the identity of who I am as a person. The boys both see me at my best, they see me apologize for being wrong, they see a healthy balance of how to fight well and how to love well.

I'm still not sure who or what I'm going to be when I grow up. But for the first time in ages, I'm having fun trying to figure it all out.

And for as much as the constant drooling during teething, sleepless nights due to whatever reason, the refusal to eat the amazingly healthy meal I spent hours preparing, or the fact the lightbulb happened to be shining in a manner unleashing to him and he gets fussy, angry, and tries to punch me gets on my nerves - I wouldn't change a single moment with Eli.

Except for maybe the offensive diaper bit.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Yellow and Black Attack

As a Christ follower, I believe that every person and every thing on this planet is created and designed with a divine purpose and plan in mind for its life. However, there are four possible exceptions to this rule:
  1. Spiders
  2. Cockroaches
  3. Reality television stars
  4. Fans of the University of Alabama

(Items 2-4 may, in fact, overlap in definition.)

Those who know me well know of my fear - nay: phobia - of all things arachnid. When Ashley and I were first dating, the revelation of my lack of "manliness" around these eight legged demons came when she discovered that I killed a spider on my back porch by chucking a cement block at it from the other side of the fence. Since then, and fearing that I might toss a shoe/can of corn/chair/potted plant through a window in my zeal to kill off these invaders, we have taken on distinct roles when it comes to pest removal in the house:

She kills spiders. I kill everything else.

There are only two problems with this rule:
  1. During the day while she is at work, I have to kill all the things. Otherwise, I will just lock the boys and myself in a closet, stuff a towel under the crack of the door, and hang a note on the doorknob telling her that we have been in there for five hours waiting for her to arrive to kill a spider; and
  2. When I walk Maggie. Outside, there is no jurisdiction for pest control.

Last summer, I became aware that a new (to me) breed of crawling hell spawn was infesting our neighborhood. I was walking Maggie past an empty house one night (problem #1), without my glasses on (problem #2), near where a streetlight had gone out (problem #3). Through my hazy sight, I noticed what looked to be a spider suspended in midair. Upon closer inspection (meaning I almost walked face-first into this Sheol of webbing), I saw that it was indeed a spider. A spider that was approximately the size of my palm and fingers were I to stretch out my hand. A spider which had spun a web roughly two feet in diameter.

I think the next time I saw a doctor, they made note of my having hypertension. It may or not be related to this.

Since last year (and Ashley taking on the role of Xena to rid our neighborhood of not one but two of these oversized escapees from the world of Harry Potter), I have learned these crawling personifications of nightmare fuel are called banana spiders. How and why something with the name of a creature that sounds like it should be sequestered in the Amazon is living - and breeding - in South Carolina is beyond my understanding. But breeding they are.

I should know. I've found two of the probable offspring so far this year. I say offspring because while they lacked the Toho-level oversized proportions of the two from last year, they make up for their stature with the size of their egg sacks.

One was brazen enough to build a web stretching the breadth of the stairs leading to our back door. Yes. It was trying to encase the house in a web so that it could eat us. Apparently it was raised on a steady dietary stream of watching ARACHNOBHOBIA. Ashley killed it, although I still feel the need to salt the earth upon which it was smooshed, fearing it may rise again.

The second sighting was last week. About seven houses down the street (STILL TOO CLOSE), I saw another of these infidel creatures, mocking gravity, God, and the laws of nature as it brazenly hung upside down on its web. This one, larger than the one that tired to cocoon our house, somehow, I let live. Maybe it was a sign of maturity within me. Maybe it was me finally beginning to come to terms and live in peace with all of creation. Maybe it was a sign of respect, that if I don't mess with it, it won't seek revenge upon me.

Or maybe it was just that I knew that if I didn't kill it on a first strike, I'd freak out and probably jump into the street and get struck by on an oncoming truck, all the while screaming in a register that would make glass panes shatter throughout the city.

But just to be safe, I'm going to Lowes today to stock up on cement blocks.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Washes Whiter Than

I really shouldn't get so emotional while doing laundry.

Oh, sure: I can justify a grumbling over the seemingly unending mountain of clothes, sheets, and towels that apparently self-replicates every few days.

I can smile with a gleam of nostalgia in my eyes as I fold shirts and shorts that have been passed down to Eli, remembering what Kai was like at age one and how stinking adorable Eli looks in every article of clothing I've had to wash to get rid of the breakfast/lunch/dinner he wears as much as eats.

I can understand the way my heart flutters a bit as I put into a pile to store for Eli the clothes that Kai has outgrown, noting that he is growing up way too damn fast.

But then I feel my breath catch in my throat, brought on by noting that Eli's "outgrown" pile contains pajamas, shirts, onesies - all manner of baby clothing - that were purchased by my mom. Clothes that now he has outgrown them, my mom will not be purchasing replacement clothes for. 


Clothes that will go into a large bin in our basement for eventual sale or trade at the local consignment shop. Clothes that are moving on. Clothes that are moving on, even though parts of my heart have yet to move on.

I really shouldn't get so emotional while doing laundry.

Oh, sure: we've kept special baby clothes for Kai. We're keeping special baby clothes for Eli. Neither of us have the skill set to be able to craft a blanket out of 34,721 shirts, onesies, or footie pajamas to pass on to the boys.

They'll have clothes. Clothes they wore when they were babies, that one day when they're older they will look upon and be amazed they were ever that small.

We'll have memories. Memories of who gave them what, and how little time passed between when the shirt was first too big for them before it became skin tight almost seemingly overnight.

But not everything. To hold on to everything would be too much. Some things need to be let go of. Some things need to move on. Some things would weigh us down, clutter up space, and prohibit the ability to grow.

(I think I'm still talking about laundry, but maybe a bit more than that.)

I really shouldn't get so emotional while doing laundry.

But then again, how else am I going to get some of these stains out?